Ohio State Basketball: Buckeyes' Biggest Goals for Nonconference Play
The meat of Ohio State’s basketball schedule this season will come once Big Ten play starts up, but the nonconference portion of the slate is important in its own right.
If nothing else, it gives the Buckeyes an opportunity to work out the kinks before the likes of Michigan State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana line up across the court.
Read on to see Ohio State’s biggest goals for nonconference play this year.
Obviously, finishing the nonconference portion of the schedule undefeated is a goal for every team in the country, but it is a much more realistic possibility for Ohio State than most programs thanks to the combination of its schedule and talent.
The Buckeyes will be favored in every game until Big Ten play kicks off after handling Marquette in impressive fashion on the road. Yes, Maryland and Notre Dame will provide Thad Matta and company with stiffer tests than Morgan State and Wyoming, but the Scarlet and Gray simply have more talent than either the Terps or Irish.
The beauty of basketball as opposed to football is that an early season loss isn't crippling to the ultimate goals, but it would still be disappointing because it would come against a lesser team.
Establish a Regular Rotation
Fairly or not, Matta has been criticized for playing a short bench in the past, but thus far he has gone nine-deep.
In addition to the five starters, Sam Thompson, Marc Loving, Amedeo Della Valle and Trey McDonald have seen significant minutes. Kameron Williams was expected to be a contributing factor in the rotation as well, but he has not seen the court yet thanks to a bout with mononucleosis.
That being said, Matta needs to establish just how he will consistently split the minutes up by the end of the nonconference slate. Whether that means shortening the bench or continuing to go this deep, a level of consistency will help the Buckeyes going forward.
It will be important, especially for the younger players, to be familiar with each other on the floor in tightly contested Big Ten teams.
Build Amir Williams’ Confidence
This is one goal that Ohio State is well on its way to accomplishing if the rest of the nonconference portion of the schedule continues to play out like the first four games.
Amir Williams was the biggest question mark on the Buckeyes’ roster heading into the season, but he has played some of the best basketball of his career this year. Williams posted his first career double-double against Ohio, scored 16 critical points in a closer-than-it-should-have-been win against American and is finally becoming the defensive presence that fans have been hoping for since he arrived.
Williams is averaging just fewer than 10 points, seven rebounds and 2.5 blocks a game so far, which would all qualify as career highs.
He hasn’t looked overwhelmed this season and is even catching passes and rebounds cleanly. Williams still needs to work on foul trouble going forward, but his confidence should be at an all-time high by Big Ten play.
Establish an Offensive Identity
Establishing Williams as a legitimate interior presence may have been concern No. 1 for the Buckeyes this year, but the next biggest question was creating an offensive identity after the departure of Deshaun Thomas.
Unfortunately for Matta, this hasn’t been answered nearly as much to his liking as the Williams question.
LaQuinton Ross, who many expected to assume Thomas’ responsibility as the go-to guy, has forced the issue thus far. His shot selection is lacking to say the least, which is the main reason he is only averaging seven points a game on 24 percent shooting.
The question that needs to be answered before conference play begins is whether he is truly capable of carrying the offense or if this needs to be a by-committee approach where the Buckeyes simply go with the hot hand on each respective night. Or perhaps someone like Shannon Scott, who took over the second half of the Marquette game, fills that role?
What’s more, the three-point shooting is even worse than last year. Scott is shooting 31 percent from downtown, which incredibly enough is second on the team behind Lenzelle Smith Jr. How reliant on the long ball the Buckeyes will be in Big Ten play is another factor in the offensive identity issues that need to be worked out.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.